Saturday, December 20, 2003

The Year in Comics -- Very good year end wrap over at The Johnny Bacardi Show.

Winter Solstice -- Monday marks the beginning of a new year, as the planet we share completes another full journey around the sun and so many things seem to start again. Metroland's Tom Nattell has written a terrific essay on the solstice. The piece should be up until December 25th or so. Please give it a look.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A Defining Moment in Comics -- Andrew Wheeler brings the funny at Ninth Art.

Time's Best of 2003 --'s online comics critic Andrew Arnold has posted his year-end best-of column. It's a pretty bulletproof list, although the level of his disdain for Marvel's 1602 series surprised even me. I can't speak to the series, myself, as I've not read even one issue. I was in Electric City Comics in Schenectady the other day and noticed they had every issue published to date (#1-5), and I'm always a sucker for a good chunk of issues in one sitting, so I cracked #5, and the hideousness of the artwork immediately compelled me to put the book back on the rack. Gah.

Chicago Readers -- If you're in Chicago, or close to it, you might want to pick up the recent issue of The Chicago Reader. There's a good profile of Paul Hornschemeier that includes a quote from the author of this very blog.

You can also read the article in the Chicago Reader website archive, but for some reason it'll set you back two bucks, so, you know. That's that with that.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

For A Few Floppies More -- I should mention some other floppies that I read and/or enjoyed in 2003...

New X-Men -- I was onboard Grant Morrison's mutant revamp from before it began, eager and excited to see what he and Frank Quitely could do to inject some life into a franchise that has had many, many more "off" years than "on." It's my belief, in fact, that the X-Men as characters have survived this long only thanks to the enormous momentum and goodwill built up by a few years of excellent adventure comics by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin. I tired of the artistic musical chairs during Morrison's run, especially with the shoddy look of some of the Igor Kordey issues, which looked like they had been printed from loose breakdowns, never mind full pencils. After the big reveal this year that Xorn was Magneto in disguise, I was amused by Morrison's temerity and re-read his entire run. I still can't wholeheartedly endorse a run of issues that encompasses such a varying quality of artwork, but Morrison's ingenuity and planning and ability to keep it all a secret for three years is worth saluting.

Human Target -- I'm a latecomer to this Peter Milligan/Javier Pulido series, having only read the first four issues of the current series. I found the first issue pretty impenetrable and the most recent, baseball-oriented storyline doesn't much interest me, but the second and third issues, about a man who faked his death after the September 11th World Trade Center attacks, were very well done and I think I'll be sticking with the title for a few months to see how it develops.

Forlorn Funnies -- I didn't mention this in my Floppies of the Year piece because, well, I seem to hit people over the head with my Forlorn Funnies addiction every chance I get, and I had already given creator Paul Hornschemeier a nod in my other Best of 2003 piece. But in the handful of titles that I found myself eagerly awaiting during 2003, Forlorn Funnies was pretty much at the top of the list. There are only a few comics in history that so clearly point the way to the future of the artform -- Eightball, Acme Novelty Library, and Forlorn Funnies are certainly the three that immediately come to mind, and they're all pretty much equally brilliant and consistently entertaining.

Ultimate Spider-Man -- Month in and month out, I remain impressed and entertained by the never-ending roll that Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley have been on. The recent issue featuring J. Johah Jameson dealing with ethical questions was a great reminder of the humanity that Bendis injects into just about every character he writes. Bendis's Ultimate Six had some nice narrative moments as well, including a chilling moment depicting the depths of Dr. Octopus's evil. There's not many superhero books that keep my attention month in and month out, but Ultimate Spider-Man is always a fun, engaging way to spend 20 minutes.

Young GODS is Here -- I'm told that Barry Windsor-Smith's Young GODS and Friends has arrived at the Fantagraphics warehouse and is ready for shipping. You can learn about my minor involvement in the book in this blog entry. This is highly recommended, and would make a terrific gift during this gifty-gift time of year. Go forth and make with the commerce!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Viewer Mail -- Here's an interesting note I received yesterday:

Dear Alan,

I, for one, would like to thank you for all the good you continue to do for the comics community. When I first took notice of Comic Book Galaxy I was appalled, at times, by what I read. You have to understand that in the political spectrum, I lean more towards the right, although I am not toppling to the right as most of my friends are. I would read your political commentary and often become enraged, but rarely comment, and instead read your reviews on works I didn't even know existed.

Most of my current library of books I have stacked on my shelves I blame you for being there. You consistently told your readers that there was more out there than the tight flying gang, and I finally caved when I began to order material from Top Shelf, Drawn and Quarterly, and Oni. I'm glad I did and I'm beginning to notice that the first place I turn in my Previews every month is the "comics" section, you know the section with all the really smart and reliable books.

So, I just want to close by saying that even though I don't always agree with you politically, I always open my day by visiting your weblog to see things from your point of view, and appreciate all you do for comics in general.

Thanks, Paul

P.S. : Where is my F is for Floppy, I'm like a guy at the methadone clinic, hurry it up already!

Thanks for the kind words, Paul. I think we can safely say that F is for Floppy has joined the Choir Invisible and won't be seen again, but it was fun for the brief time it lasted.

Wednesday Reading -- Sean Collins has more thoughts on the paucity of news in the Comics Journal's "news" section.

Derek Martinez weighs in on the year in floppies.

Steven Grant's Permanent Damage includes his usual blend of excellent reviews and political commentary.

And in case you had any doubt, John Byrne's phone booth full of fans is as thin-skinned as he is. Nuthin' but fun in that thread. Good times, good times.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Floppies of the Year -- 2003 was an interesting year in comics linguistics. It was the year that the general public -- the part that thinks about comics, anyway -- decided that they're all graphic novels, and the ever-dwindling mass of nerds who populate and support the nation's comics shops were torn between calling 32-page comics (and their stapled brethren) "floppies" or "pamphlets." Writer Steven Grant suggested "Pamfs," but I submit to you that that phrase is just never going to catch on. Sorry, Steven.

In any case, while my official Best of 2003 feature covered graphic novels, I've decided here in the last days of December, 2003 that I should also throw some love to the pamfs -- I mean, floppies that rocked my socks during the previous 12 months. So that's that with that, as Mr. Malloy would say.

Sleeper -- This "Eye of the Storm" title from DC/Wildstorm was far and away the best comic to look forward to every 30 days during 2003. Built on a foundation of paranoia, grief, misery and violence, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips injected an unrelenting sense of dread combined with a very human, grounded drama that made Sleeper absolutely addictive. Unfortunately, it appears at first glance to perhaps be more complex than it is, which may have put some potential readers off, I don't know. In any case, it's clear that this fantastic series did not receive the attention it deserved in 2003. Readers will have a chance to sample the book with this week's release of Sleeper: Out in the Cold, a trade paperback collecting the first six issues. It would be a real loss to comics if this series were allowed to disappear, so please give it a look. I guarantee you'll be as hooked as I am.

The Walking Dead -- We're only three issues in to this action/adventure series, and it's already established itself as a fun, engaging story about, well, I've tried to avoid the term as far into this sentence as possible, but, zombies. Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's story bears some basic similarities to the excellent horror movie 28 Days Later, but Kirkman is concentrating more on the human side of the equation -- what would it be like for the remaining humans if zombies walked the earth? The Walking Dead is hard to pin down -- it has elements of science fiction, horror and action/adventure, but at its core Kirkman and Moore concentrate on the humanity of their characters, and that's essential to creating stories people read, enjoy, and remember. By far one of the best books Image offered up in 2003.

Promethea -- It's the end of the world, and apparently the ABC Universe created by Alan Moore, and no one in this mind-bending series is feeling fine. Reality is twisting and bending and getting closer every issue to breaking for good -- and Moore and his gifted colleagues are delivering a true "crisis" that puts other "end of the universe" stories in comics history to shame. The past few issues of Promethea have been so good that it's truly hard to put into words -- the sense of sadness, dread and chaos mixes with the very real depression I feel at the prospect of no more Alan Moore-written ABC titles to give the stories even more gravity. Promethea is possibly Moore's greatest achievement, and in these final issues, he's rewarding his readers by going out with the very biggest bang possible.

Love and Rockets -- The late-in-the-year release of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar hardcover brought into stark relief how lucky comics readers are to live in a time when Love and Rockets is being regularly published again. Each issue provides a generous selection of short stories and serialized tales by Gilbert, and brothers Jaime and Mario. Los Bros. Hernandez are often cited as some of the best cartoonists in comics history, and for one very good reason: They are. If you haven't been reading the latest incarnation of their storied series Love and Rockets, you're missing out on stories filled to bursting with life, love, comedy and drama. If you're an adult who likes comics, there's literally nothing more you could ask for.

Gabagool -- By now you've probably heard something about this delightful little alternative title, but chances are you haven't sampled it yet. You should. Gabagool is about a group of friends and would-be bounty hunters who live in Bronx, NY (whatever you do, don't call it The Bronx!) and live out their days in geeky pursuit of pleasure. This year saw the comic make the jump from mini to full-sized comic, and the boys travelled on a hedonistic vacation that was hilarious and delightful. If you haven't picked up an issue of Gabagool yet, make that one of your new year's resolutions.

Wildcats -- Writer Joe Casey has produced a lot of bizarre, self-congratulatory crap over the past few years -- and one exquisite, cerebral action title. Wildcats concerns how one super-powered being wants to transform the world through corporate branding, and with the help of artist Dustin Nguyen, this DC/Wildstorm title has been a joy to read. Wildcats has almost always been about deconstruction, from the moment Jim Lee and company handed the title off to Alan Moore. Since that divine occurance, the book has almost always been interesting, but it's never been better than it has under the care of Casey and Nguyen. 2004 will see a new artist on the title, and I'm apprehensive about the change, but for over a year now Casey has done a fine job making Wildcats a riveting read, and I hope that continues in the new year with a new visual style.

Dark Days -- Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith recently wrapped up their six-issue sequel to 30 Days of Night, building on that original series and creating an even more grim and surprising story. Vampires vs. humanity is the basis of the tale, and Niles, as always, approaches his story from surprising angles and with great narrative confidence. The final moment of Dark Days was dark, indeed, and a great reminder that in the world of independent comics, literally anything is possible.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume Two -- As the movie inspired by Volume One failed to ignote much interest in summer movie-goers, the true excitement was in the pages of this perverse take on War of the Worlds. The League bands together to defy martian invaders, but is torn apart by internal treachery. This worthy sequel featured two especially noteworthy moments, the lovemaking of two of the lead characters, and the horrifyingly funny demise of one team member by another, leading to my favourite line of dialogue in any comic this year. As long as I live, I will never forget how funny it was when Mr. Hyde said "I saw to his end." Alan Moore's genius will sorely be missed in 2004.

Smax -- If it seems there's a lot of Alan Moore on this list, that's because he wrote a lot of the best comics that saw the light of day this year. Smax was especially surprising, because I think most readers were expecting a lighthearted sequel-of-sorts to the sublimely wonderful Top Ten. Instead, what we got was a harrowing examination of the origin and culture of Officer Jeff Smax, along with enough dead-on mockery of fantasy stories to make any Tolkien fan blush. One of the biggest surprises of the year was just how good, and how complex, Smax turned out to be.

Planetary -- The list of disappointing Warren Ellis comics from the past couple of years is quite long. He got the idea of "Pop Comics" into his head and wouldn't let go until quarter bins were filled to bursting with subpar efforts like MEK, Tokyo Storm Warning and Reload. On the other hand, Red with artist Cully Hamner showed how good the idea could have been. But longtime Ellis readers were most excited about the return, at last, of Planetary. The series picked up without missing a beat, the highlight of the year probably being a jungle adventure that ultimately revealed itself to be an unexpected origin story full of passion and excitement.

Wanted -- The occasional excesses of writer Mark Millar ("Think this 'A' stands for France?" was the clunker line of the year) often seem to cloud the fact that he is quite accomplished at plotting superhero comics, and the early returns on Wanted seem to indicate that readers get it: Wanted is filled with action, perversity and profanity, and the stunning, dynamic art of JG Jones. It's not a quantum leap from Millar's The Ultimates, but it definitely improves on the formula and is likely to be the superhero book everyone is talking about in the next few months.

Shonen Jump -- The manga section in my local Borders has recently undergone a massive expansion, and that's not because they're losing money on it. I bought my first issue of Shonen Jump, a bargain-priced manga anthology, well, today, actually. But in a year when this jam-packed upstart comic magazine outsold the leading "mainstream" comic by a factor of five, I thought it was long past the time I should give it a look. Factor in the price differential -- at five bucks, Shonen Jump costs double what Jim Lee's excreable Batman did -- and you can be certain that 2004 will be the year manga dominates even more, as the more short-sighted comics shops continue to turn away thousands of potential customers and further seal their own fates.

Reinventing Everything -- 2003 was the year James and Amy Kochalka welcomed their new son Eli into their family, and one of the beneficial results of that was this introspective, revelatory two-issue mini-comic. I enjoyed Reinventing Everything more than just about anything else I read this year, and I strongly recommend it as one of the best examples of why James Kochalka is one of our best living cartoonists.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The Comics Journal Dichotomy -- You know, for the longest time, The Comics Journal website was a fairly static, uninteresting thing -- a few web-only essays and an active if maddening message board, but ultimately its primary purpose seemed to be to advertise the contents of the latest issue of the paper magazine.

That all changed when webmaster Dirk Deppey singlehandedly created the most important comics weblog, iJournalista!, a daily dose of comics news both large and small that shames not only the so-called "comics news sites," like The Pulse and Newsarama, but which now has clearly shamed the paper version of the magazine, too. Sean Collins wrestles the Journal's pathetic news section to the mat and leaves it screaming for mercy with whatever pitiful voice it has left.

The pity is, 20 years ago the Journal was the only place to find hard-hitting comics industry news. Now it's just about the last place you can expect to find it. My wife probably knows more about what's going on in comics today than Journal news editor Michael Dean.

It's ironic and sad that as the Journal's interviews, reviews and features have thrived in the past few years, the news section has wasted away to nothing. Other than in-depth obits, the news section is pretty much optional reading these days, convention reports and features pretending to be news. Hopefully Sean's outing of the news section and accurate trumpeting of Dirk Deppey as the internet's best comics resource will set the Journal's editors and managers to thinking about some ways to fix what has clearly been broken for years now.

Corner Comics Cornered -- Dirk Deppey has the apparent finale of the Corner Comics situation. I don't know who's in the right here, the comics shop or the IRS, but when the government wins in their demand for books of any kind to be destroyed, members of a democracy ought to be goddamn alarmed.

Monday Reading -- In Part Three of Rob Vollmar's Discovering the Elephant, Rob continues his examination of the graphic novel.

Paul O'Brien has updated The X-Axis with a batch of new reviews.

I guess The Comics Burrito is going the way of Four Color Hell, huh?

Rob Liefeld is in the spotlight in the new All the Rage. A highlight is the revelation that, in addition to shoddy reproduction, Checker Publishing is reportedly not paying royalties "to the creators for either of the Supreme reprint volumes."

Isn't it nice that we have an entire generation of publishers now reprinting classic comics and doing so without properly paying the creators of the work (Barry Windsor-Smith and Conan and the new Dark Horse collections come to mind)?

How companies like Dark Horse and Checker can admire these works so much that they want to bring them to new generations of readers, and yet violate the rights of the very creators of those works so flagrantly, is almost impossible to comprehend. But it's certainly a fact that readers should take into consideration before supporting the resulting publications. When you know that buying an Alan Moore's Supreme collection (however shittily printed) or a Conan trade paperback, you might pause for a moment and ask if you want to take part in stealing from creators you admire. Because when you reprint work like this without paying royalties to the creators, you're stealing. Period.

In the All the Rage piece, Liefeld states that he "look(s) forward to achieving personal profitability on the Checker books that will enable (him) to cut everyone involved royalty checks." And I think we've all seen over the past few years how trustworthy and reliable Rob Liefeld is, no? Well, he says the entire Youngblood: Bloodsport mini-series will have shipped by Summer, 2004, too. Mark your calendars, kids. (And for a lark, before it disappears, re-read the Rob Liefeld Translation Algorithm. Good times, good times.)

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Attention Creators and Publishers -- Renee French linking to one of my Comic Book Galaxy reviews over at the TCJ boards reminds me that I should probably mention this.

If you're a creator or publisher and you've linked to one of my Comic Book Galaxy reviews on your website, the Comic Book Galaxy review archive will be permanently disappearing within the next couple of weeks (I thought it had already gone down the other day, but it came back). If you want to continue to use my reviews on your sites, you have my blanket permission to use the full text of the review on your site, preferably with a link to this current weblog here at

The point here is that any current links to material archived at Comic Book Galaxy won't work after a couple more weeks pass, and if you want to continue to use my review, you're gonna have to copy and paste it to your own site. If you don't have the web-savvy to do that, drop me an e-mail and I can send you what you need to post on your site.

It's possible that a third party may eventually host my review archive to keep it from fading into oblivion, but this being the internet, I won't fully believe that until it's already happened. So if you want to continue to use my reviews to promote your work, grab it now or e-mail me for assistance.

Late Sunday Reading -- The Johnny Bacardi Show has posted some new reviews, and Hannibal finally posted a little somethin' somethin' (get well soon, buddy); meanwhile, darkness has fallen in the snow-battered Eastern time zone and still no new Markisan or X-Axis. Feh!

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